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Silent Heart Attack: Are You at Risk for This Deadly Condition?

Silent Heart Attack: Are You at Risk for This Deadly Condition?
(Dreamstime)

By    |   Friday, 13 July 2018 01:58 PM

When people have heart attacks, they feel crushing chest pain, break out in a cold sweat, and start gasping for breath, right? That may be the case in movies, but in real life nearly half of all heart attacks are the “silent” kind, and for women such dramatic symptoms are rare.

An alarming federally funded study – known as the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) – concluded that 45 percent of all heart attack victims experienced no symptoms that they could recall.

Some only learned that they’d suffered a heart attack – or myocardial infarction – through routine electrocardiograms and blood enzyme tests. For others, death is both the first and last symptom of a heart attack.

For many people, symptoms are as subtle as a case of indigestion or some back pain.

“If you have a disease you don’t recognize, the danger is you’re not going to get it treated properly,” said Dr. Richard Greenberg, a cardiologist at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

“You’re not going to get the right medications, or you don’t get a stent or bypass operation that could benefit you. Or maybe you don’t get a pacemaker or defibrillator that could prevent abnormal heart rhythms, including the arrhythmia that makes people drop dead.”

In fact, victims of silent myocardial infarctions (SMIs) are three times more likely to die from heart disease – and 34 percent more likely to die from all causes – than others.

“Those who suffer from a heart attack need to take measures to prevent a second one,” noted ARIC study senior author Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman. “If the heart attack is silent, these preventive measures would not be applied, exposing the patients to another heart attack which could be fatal.”

And the sexes are far from equal when it comes to SMIs. Women are more likely than men to die from them. One reason is because they are often misdiagnosed.

“Women are more likely than men to have symptoms that could be interpreted as something else,” Greenberg said. “When they describe atypical heart attack symptoms to their doctor, it may not result in an evaluation such as an office electrocardiogram or blood enzyme test or a referral for things like a stress test, catheterization or echocardiogram.”

Woman also have an added risk factor as they age.

“Sex hormones in women before menopause have protective effect on the heart,” explains Soliman, director of the Epidemiological Cardiology Research Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Women lose such an effect after menopause.”

So how do you know if you are having a silent heart attack or just a regular case of indigestion, back pain or some other benign condition?

Soliman said that people with risk factors of heart disease should always be on high alert. This includes men over 45, women over 55, smokers and those with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and/or a family history of heart problems.

Then, you should look for things that don’t ordinarily affect you. If you suddenly experience symptoms like shortness of breath, indigestion or heartburn, back or arm pain, jaw or neck pain, nausea or fatigue, it’s a red flag.

If you are at high risk for a heart attack, said Soliman, “it’s all about feeling something is wrong and out of the usual compared to the day before.”

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When people have heart attacks, they feel crushing chest pain, break out in a cold sweat, and start gasping for breath, right? That may be the case in movies, but in real life nearly half of all heart attacks are the "silent" kind.
silent, heart, attack, risks
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2018-58-13
Friday, 13 July 2018 01:58 PM
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